On foreign affairs, Kennedy challenged presidential power
His most important vote, he said, was against the Iraq War. But he also had major impact on human rights and other issues.
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But Kennedy kept learning and looking for ways to be effective.Skip to next paragraph
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After British troops killed 14 Catholic civil rights marchers in Derry on Jan. 31, 1972, or “Bloody Sunday,” he contacted local schoolteacher and civil rights activist John Hume, who became a close adviser.
At the urging of Mr. Hume, Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, House Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts, and Gov. Hugh Carey (D) of New York -- the “Four Horsemen” -- appealed to Irish Americans on St. Patrick’s Day 1977 to support dialogue and stop funding arms.
Seventeen years later, also at the urging of Hume, Kennedy convinced President Clinton to grant a US visa to Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army. In August 1994, the IRA called a historic ceasefire.
“Once Kennedy began to inform himself of the complexities of that problem, he quickly appreciated, as did his staff, that [immediate British withdrawal] was unworkable,” says Nigel Bowles, director of the American Institute at Oxford University.
“Hume’s view was that what had to emerge was an agreement, a consensus, some means by which Catholics and Protestants could live together on peaceful terms. Kennedy pursued it,” he adds. “His contribution to the course of peace was very important, but he was not alone.”
In his 47 years in the Senate, he used his worldwide name recognition and contacts to build a record as a voice for human rights. In the process, he often clashed with the Nixon and Reagan administrations.
In the 1970s, he led opposition in the Senate to US support for military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, setting new precedents for congressional oversight of the executive branch in foreign policy. Kennedy led opposition in the Senate to the military coup in Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, and pushed Congress to halt all US military aid to that country the first time that Congress cut off military aid.